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Understanding the Concept Behind Being Broken on the Wheel

Breaking Wheel or Catherine Wheel is one of the commonly used European torture systems back in medieval times. Criminals and other convicts were executed utilizing this equipment, and so most people call them broken on the wheel. It has already been present since antiquity time, but it gained popularity during the medieval era and went on for the succeeding years. The torture equipment is typically connected to Saint Catherine of Alexandria. While the observance was common all over Europe, it was explicitly famous in Germany and France.


Being broken on the wheel, began during the antiquity when it was utilized for capital punishment as a torture machine. There were also references found on the pieces authored by Gregory of Tours back in the sixth century. Men who were guilty of aggravated murder were the ones being punished by the Breaking Wheel. Such a punishment was prevalent during the medieval era but started to die down at the start of the modern era.

The Torture Process

Just like the name suggested, Breaking Wheel, the machine’s purpose is to break the convicted felon’s bones and macerate them until they die. At times, people simply call them the wheel, and those who go through torture and death were known to be broken on the wheel.

The device has a huge wagon wheel made of wood that has numerous spokes circling it. The convicted individual was laid on the wheel and beaten using an iron stick or club. There are so many types of this equipment, and at times it also has a cross made of wood. After the person dies, their body will be displayed on the wheel. There are instances when the death process is done in a slow and painful method, allowing the victim to last for several days before their demise.

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The Retribution

There are several ways how the retribution happens in the Catherine Wheel device. The convicted felon can either go through a long torture phase. They can also face a quick and short death because of the strong blows on their stomach and chest by the punisher. These hits typically cause the person’s quick death brought by the executioner. Other countries that use such a torture device have their distinctive ways on how to operate the machine. But regardless of the procedure, this is meant for individuals who committed serious crimes.

Execution by the Breaking Wheel


Following the first phase that involves beating the criminal, their body with the broken limbs will then be braided and tied to the wooden wheel. The wheel will be perched up on a pole, just like a typical act of crucifixion. Then, the punisher will decapitate the person if there’s a need to do so. On the other hand, some would throw the convict to a fire, leaving them burned to death. For those who committed a less serious crime, the gravity of the punishment will not be as hideous as those beaten to death.

After the execution, the remains of the person’s body will be left on the wheel for the animals and birds to eat. This is considered another form of punishment, which is believed to impede the spirit’s transition to resurrection.

Riley Brown
Written By

Riley is a history, lifestyle, and entertainment writer living in San Diego. He received his bachelor's degree in Journalism and Multimedia from the University of Oregon. His work has been featured in many finance and lifestyle publications throughout the US. When he is not writing, Riley enjoys reading and hanging out at the beach with his dog.


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